Despite twisting his knee awkwardly while attempting a chase-down block, Kentucky freshman Nerlens Noel has leapt to the top of Chad Ford’s Top 100 Prospects for the 2013 draft. Noel’s season-ending injury put a stake in Kentucky’s national championship aspirations, and it couldn’t be a more fitting summer for a No. 1 overall pimp with a limp.
While the injury toll has taxed squads like the IRS, teams whose postseason fates were determined weeks ago have been criticized for keeping their stars out of harm’s way. Those critics got muzzled after Mike D’Antoni recklessly rode Kobe Bryant until he keeled over . Bryant’s torn Achilles reduced the NBA’s ultimate warrior to Jimmy from DeGrassi and gave everyone the big picture.
Bryant’s injury came after he exerted himself more than he had at any time in his 17-year career. And D’Antoni’s in the minority; coaches like Gregg Popovich and Eric Spoelstra have done it the right way from the jump.
A scary thought for the NBA should be the idea that Miami has survived the carnage for 82 games without a major injury. Bryant’s injury also ended any of the criticism Miami got lobbed in its direction for turning the bench into a hammock and resting their stars over the final two weeks of the season.
Pop and Spoelstra are the highest-profile coaches guarding their stars’ minutes, but they’re not alone. Starters have seen their court time and individual stats shrink like skinny jeans over the last decade, for the sole purpose of limiting the regular season wear-and-tear.
This change in philosophy also explains the paucity of 20-point scorers. By closing time on Wednesday night, there were just nine players averaging 20 points per game–the fewest in 48 years.
There have been theories bandied about for the decline of 20-point scorers, including the advent of zone defenses and the declining presence of low post scorers. However, when you extrapolate the numbers, NBA superstars aren’t scoring less – they’re just playing fewer minutes.
At the turn of the century, there were 13 players averaging at least 40 minutes per game. Over time, that number gradually declined until there were none this season. Predictably, scoring has dropped among the top players.
In 2000-01, 25 players averaged 20 or more. That’s almost triple the nine 20-per game scorers roaming the league today. However, per 48 minutes, there is one more player averaging 25 or more this season than there was in 2001.
Volume shooter Allen Iverson’s league-high 31.1 points per game in 2001 dwarfs School of Volume Shooting valedictorian Carmelo Anthony’s 2013 league-high of 28.7.
However, from buzzer to buzzer Anthony’s 37.1 points per 48 minutes beats Iverson’s 35.6 per 48 by a free throw and a half.
Popovich regularly schedules nap times on the bench for his senior citizen squad, but his prudence hasn’t been enough to keep the Spurs healthy and locked in as the West’s No. 1 seed. Sixth man extraordinaire, Manu Ginobili gets scuffed up so often that his No. 20 Spurs jersey should be replaced with one of those “No Accidents In __ Day(s)” factory compliance signs. This season is no different, as Ginobili returned in the Spurs season finale from a hamstring injury suffered April 1st.
Since Tony Parker returned, the Spurs offense has sputtered, the bandwagon has abandoned them roadside and the team either became the walking dead or played possum down the stretch by losing eight of their final 13 games. His 26 points per game scoring average in the month prior to his injury also got the guillotine after he averaged 13 points in April.
The Bucket List Celtics haven’t been so lucky. Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge have made it no secret that they want to chase one more title with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in their twilight years. After missing last season due to heart surgery, Jeff Green is slowly taking the scoring reins fromPierce’s hands by averaging 17.8 points per game over the final quarter of the season, and Bradley is sticking to the league’s best perimeter scorers like charges on Gucci Mane. However, Rajon Rondo’s ACL would not comply.
NBA knees have been getting bashed like Stern owes the mob money. Amar’e Stoudemire’s knees have seen more knives than the Halloween trilogy. However, without Stoudemire in the lineup, the Knicks defense has tightened up and the offense has kicked into high gear.
Within a week of each other, the third seeds in the East and West lost, arguably, their best perimeter scorers, Danilo Gallinari and Danny Granger, to season-ending knee injuries.
The East’s biggest threat was eliminated last April when Derrick Rose shredded his ACL. It’s been over 11 months since Rose writhed on the United Center floor and was diagnosed with an injury that was supposed to keep him away for as little as eight months and for as many as 12.
Since then, the anticipation over Rose’s return has been given the Dre Detox treatment. Like Dre hitting everybody with the shot-fake after debuting a few singles last year before pushing back Detox’s release indefinitely, Rose had Chicago counting down to his return by dunking with ease in pregame workouts, but remaining silent on reports he’d return at various points since March. Ultimately, he had us all looking sillier than Brandon Knight.
However, whether or not we want to admit, Rose has been given a pass that most non-franchise cornerstones don’t have the credit to swipe. But if he’s not careful, he may overcharge his card.
During the first round of the 2012 playoffs, Jeremy Lin was roasted over an open campfire for sitting out the series before his big payday, while Rose is lauded for taking care of his money-making patellas.
For the Harvard grad, 85 percent wasn’t a passing grade for his health, but it was enough for fans to turn on him and question his toughness.
Nate Robinson has valiantly plugged in the Rose void, but Thibodeau needs the big guns for the postseason. Miami may look like they’ve got the East wrapped up in Saran, but if injury befalls one of their Big Three while the Nets eliminate Chicago, he may never hear the end of it.
Miami’s superstars have been courtside sippin’ on Mai-Tais, but the rest of the league has been depleted by the grind of an 82-game season. The Heat were already head and shoulders above the field without being given another advantage. If any paying road fans want to hate on Spoelstra for resting LeBron and Wade, then let ‘em hate.